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‘Can’t un-see it’: Dolphin activist reveals scene that still haunts him


An 81-year-old dolphin activist has opened up about the toll years of campaigning has taken on his mental health.

Describing the last 50 years as like “one big bad movie”, Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry said he would prefer to be retired and sailing.

It’s hard to walk away from a lifetime of activism, while the “abuse” of dolphins continues around the world.

“Wherever I am you try and escape it,” Mr O’Barry told Yahoo News Australia.

“Those images don’t go away. Once you see it you can’t un-see it.”

Dolphin campaigner Ric O'Barry is haunted by scenes of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Source: Dolphin Project
Dolphin campaigner Ric O’Barry is haunted by scenes of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Source: Dolphin Project

He’s particularly haunted by the deaths of whales and dolphins in Taiji, Japan.

Vision captured by Dolphin Project gives insight into his experience: the ocean turning red with blood after dolphins and small whales are driven towards the rocky shore, then butchered.

“When you put your head on the pillow at night it doesn’t go away,” Mr O’Barry said of his time campaigning against the slaughter in Taiji.

“It’s like one long, bad dream, these last 15 years.”

‘It affects your family,’ O’Barry says of dolphin activist work

In his pursuit to free dolphins from captivity, Mr O’Barry has had his life threatened on many occasions, and lost count of how often he’s been imprisoned around the world.

Describing Japanese prison as torturous, he has avoided confrontation there, even when a hunter in the town of Taiji decapitated a dead baby dolphin in front of him.

“I think he wanted to shock me with a knife, that kind of stuff right in my face,” Mr O’Barry said.

“Blood splattered all over me”.

Mr O'Barry spoke to Yahoo News Australia from his home in Copenhagen. Source: Michael Dahlstrom
Mr O’Barry spoke to Yahoo News Australia from his home in Copenhagen. Source: Michael Dahlstrom

The work has taken a toll on him, but he believes it’s the people he loves have suffered most.

“It affects your family, it affects everybody around you,” he said.

“You miss your son’s graduation, I’m not sure I would recommend this to anybody.”

‘I wish I hadn’t taken that phone call’

Every time he leaves his home he’s walking into conflict, and that’s hard to leave at the door when he comes home.

Mr O’Barry’s work shot to prominence 10 years ago after his campaign to end dolphin slaughter in Japan was documented in the Oscar winning film The Cove.

Sometimes you have a split second to make a choice and it’ll literally change your life.Ric O’Barry

His work there began after receiving a call from another activist asking for assistance.

Mr O’Barry recalls he was told it was “dangerous” but they needed help.

Mr O'Barry (left), a skilled diver, said it is thrilling to set dolphins free. Source: Dolphin Project
Mr O’Barry (left), a skilled diver, said it is thrilling to set dolphins free. Source: Dolphin Project

“So, I bought an aeroplane ticket and I was there the next day,” he said.

“That was 20 years ago and I’ve been stuck (campaigning) there ever since.

“In some ways I wish I hadn’t taken that phone call.”

Dolphin Project’s work in the town of Taiji, has focused on not just the killing of dolphins for their meat, but also the hunters’ ties to the marine park industry.

Favoured species such as bottle-nose dolphins are captured and sold into captivity, particularly to Japanese and Chinese dolphinariums.

Dolphin parks linked to slaughter

With dolphin consumption not particularly popular in Japan, and known to be high in mercury, Mr O’Barry believes it is the lucrative sums earned from selling live dolphins which makes the slaughter financially viable.

While debate rages over whether dolphin killing is a tradition in Japan, the large scale culls and capture of these animals is a relatively new phenomenon.

Dead dolphins sell for as little as US $480, while a live animal can sell for 100 times that amount, according to Vice News.

Dolphin Project urges tourists to avoid dolphinariums. Source: Getty
Dolphin Project urges tourists to avoid dolphinariums. Source: Getty

The majority of those sold into entertainment are sent to China where there is an expanding middle class, with money to spend on dolphin shows, the Washington Post reported.

A growing number of Japanese nationals are protesting the hunt each year, and Mr O’Barry believes that ongoing education will see the practice phased out.


‘It’s all about showing up’: Key to dolphin activism

Despite describing himself as “always tired”, Mr O’Barry isn’t retiring any time soon, but he doesn’t know where his stamina comes from.

“I just keep doing it. It’s like breathing,” Mr O’Barry said.

“It’s kind of like asking me how do you keep breathing, I don’t think about that any more, I just breathe.”

In the world of computer activism, he believes change occurs by physically protesting, and resisting.

“I’m computer illiterate, I don’t even own a computer,” he said.

“It’s all about showing up. Real activists show up.

Progress being made as laws ban dolphin capture

Despite the depressing side of his work, Mr O’Barry said he can see progress being made.

He was particularly elated by news that the state of NSW would be banning the breeding and capture of dolphins, following similar legislation passed in France and Canada.

Mr O'Barry, pictured as a young man, transitioned from capturing dolphins to setting them free. Source: Dolphin Project
Mr O’Barry, pictured as a young man, transitioned from capturing dolphins to setting them free. Source: Dolphin Project

Paying penance for his time as a young man capturing dolphins for marine parks, and working on the 60’s television show Flipper, nothing now gives him greater joy than releasing dolphins back into the ocean.

His activism was directly sparked by the loss of Flipper who died in his arms. The very next day he flew to the Bahamas and was arrested after setting a dolphin free.

He’s particularly proud of the work they have done rehoming three dolphins in Bali, which had been kept inside a hotel swimming pool to entertain tourists.

“There are some days where we actually rehabilitate and release dolphins back into the wild,” he said.

“Words fail when I try to explain how I feel about that — you’re literally giving them their lives back.

“Most dolphins that are captured lose their lives, they don’t get their lives back.”


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SpaceX will launch its next Starlink satellite fleet Thursday and you can watch it live

Update for 8:40 p.m. EST on March 9: SpaceX is now targeting Thursday, March 11 at 3:13 a.m. EST for this Starlink launch, citing a desire to perform more prelaunch checks.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX is gearing up to launch its second Starlink mission of the month tonight (March 9) as it expands its growing internet satellite megaconstellation, and you can watch the action live online. 

The private spaceflight company is planning to fly one of its Falcon 9 rockets for a sixth time for the Starlink mission. The two-stage launcher will blast off from Space Launch Complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 9:58 p.m. EST (0258 March 10 GMT). 

You can watch the launch live here and on the Space.com homepage, courtesy of SpaceX, beginning about 15 minutes before liftoff. You can also watch the launch directly via SpaceX

Related: SpaceX’s Starlink megaconstellation launches in photos 

SpaceX is continuing its rapid launch pace, which was set last year when the company launched a record 26 times. Tonight’s flight marks the company’s seventh launch of 2021, with at least one more Starlink mission planned for March. 

Forecasters with the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron reported that the launch weather looks promising for Tuesday night’s liftoff, with a 90% chance of favorable weather. The only slight concerns being liftoff winds and cumulus clouds. 

If needed, there is a backup attempt on Wednesday, with weather forecasts dipping slightly to and 80% of good launch conditions. 

Beautiful weather is also predicted down range, which is good news for one of SpaceX’s two drone ships — “Just Read the Instructions” — which hopes to catch the booster as it returns to Earth. If successful, the landing will mark the 76th recovery for SpaceX since the company landed its first booster in 2015. And will mark the second catch in a row for SpaceX after it lost a booster in February

SpaceX relies heavily on its fleet of veteran rockets, which have enabled SpaceX to keep up with its launch ambitions. However, company officials have stressed that while booster recovery is beneficial, the main goal of each mission is to successfully deliver the payload to space. 

The booster doing the lifting in this mission is a five-time flier, set to make its sixth launch and landing attempt. Dubbed B1058, the first stage made its debut by launching two astronauts to the International Space Station in May of 2020. 

Relive the historic SpaceX Demo-2 launch with this awesome highlight reel

Following that historic mission, it ferried a communications satellite for South Korea’s military, a cargo dragon spacecraft full of research and supplies for the space station, the most satellites ever launched on a single mission (Transporter-1), and today’s flight will be its second Starlink payload. 

The flight also marks one of the shortest turnaround times between booster flights for SpaceX. B1058 last flew on Jan. 24, and will blast off again from the same launch pad just 45 days later — a record for a sixth reflight of a booster. (The previous record was 59 days.) 

During a news conference on the upcoming Crew-2 mission, which is set to launch on April 22, SpaceX’s Benji Reed briefly discussed the refurbishment process. “We learn something about reuse after every mission,” he said. That learning process has helped the company refine its procedures and reduce times in between flights. 

SpaceX deploys new Starlink batch in amazing view from space

This particular flight, Starlink 20, is the 21st set of internet-beaming satellites that SpaceX has delivered to space, including a set of initial prototypes in 2019. SpaceX’s initial constellation will contain 1,440 satellites, and the company is well on its way to achieving that milestone. 

But SpaceX is not stopping there. The company was granted permission to launch up to 30,000 satellites, with the option for more at a later time. 

The stack of 60 broadband satellites will join the fleet already in orbit, bringing the total number launched over 1,200. (That number includes prototypes of the satellites that are no longer in service.) With SpaceX quickly filling its initial constellation, the company is moving closer to providing commercial internet service with the Starlink network. As such, it is planning a full commercial rollout later this year. 

That roll out comes after an extensive beta testing program that included both employees and the public. The “better than nothing” beta testing program kicked off in 2019 and has already provided thousands of users connectivity.

Starlink satellites make big dfference to Hoh Native American tribe

Some of those users include people in remote areas that currently have little-to-no internet service, such as the Pikangikum tribe in Canada. Starlink terminals were delivered to the reservation in late November, and have better access to education, healthcare service as well as contact with friends and family. 

Students in Wise County, Virginia are also better connected now, thanks to Starlink terminals arriving earlier this year. Roughly 40% of families in the area lack access to the internet which made learning all the more difficult during the pandemic. The county board of supervisors worked with SpaceX to provide free internet service to at least 40 families, with the project expanding to more families at a later time.

In advance of an official rollout, the company recently opened up its website for preorders, allowing a limited number of users per area. If interested, potential customers can sign up via the company’s Starlink website and secure service by putting down a deposit. The website does say that it could take several months for the service to become active. 

Fairing recovery

The net-equipped SpaceX boat GO Ms. Tree catches a Falcon 9 payload fairing half on Aug. 18, 2020.
The net-equipped SpaceX boat GO Ms. Tree catches a Falcon 9 payload fairing half on Aug. 18, 2020. (Image credit: Elon Musk via Twitter)

SpaceX’s dynamic fairing-catching duo, GO Ms Tree and GO Ms Chief are still sidelined, undergoing maintenance in Port Canaveral. As such, GO Searcher and GO Navigator have been dispatched to the planned recovery site. 

The two boats, which typically support Dragan missions, are able to scoop the fairing pieces out of the water, enabling SpaceX to continue its plans to recover and reuse the fairing pieces. For this particular mission, both pieces have flown before. With any luck, they will live to fly again. 

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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